As Paul Hurh points out early in American Terror, a peculiar problem arises when what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick calls the “paranoid reading style” (Sedgwick 130) is brought to bear on the fiction of fear. The tautology generated by the conventional explanatory model of fear's repressive function (i.e., nineteenth-century Americans were fearful of their social, political, and racial others, so when these others appear in gothic form, that form must reflect those fears) occupies a critical blind spot, in which fear underwrites the repression schema and provides a means of explaining it. As Justine Murison succinctly explains it, “The role ‘anxiety’ plays as both discursive source and its result . . . complicates historicism by resisting causal relationships: ‘Anxiety’ stands metonymically for the motivation behind which analysis cannot go” (Murison 8). As both Murison and Hurh are well...
The Phenomenology of Fear
SIÂN SILYN ROBERTS is associate professor of English at Queens College, CUNY. She is the author of Gothic Subjects: The Transformation of Individualism in American Fiction, 1790–1861 (2014) and editor of the Broadview edition of Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker.
Siân Silyn Roberts; The Phenomenology of Fear. Novel 1 May 2019; 52 (1): 140–144. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-7330272
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